February 4th……“WHAT WAS A COZY, YET AT TIMES MESSY, EXPERIENCE WITH BABY CALVES DOWN IN YOUR BARN ON YOUR FARM NEAR KIESTER, MINNESOTA?
With pint-sized pandiculation, our baby calves were stretching themselves awake just as I entered and sought the warmth of our barn. The fearsome frigid winds, of that winter’s night, had blown me clear across our graveled farmyard and, in the process, nearly sucked the life-giving breath right out of my young lungs.
Those baby bovines were, like any “child”, full of happy energy and welcomed any attention that you could muster in their direction.
Those happy, hirsute Holstein “babies” were thoroughly enjoying the heady fragrance of the clean, golden oat straw bedding that Dad had laid down around them there behind our dairy herd. Tethered to the barn wall by a leather neck collar and rope, they could only move around just so far, as not to impede Dad or myself from getting around them on the walkway as we milked those fifteen head of lovely Holsteins.
The Bible even speaks to farmers, just like our father, Russell, when God shares in Proverbs Chapter 27 and Verse 23: “Know well the condition of your flocks, and pay attention to your herds.” Our hardworking daddy loved his animals and did just that. Knowing which calf belonged to each cow, he knew their respective young ages and that some of these little ones, under his care, still needed their mommy’s milk. Those four-legged, tiny “energy pills” could sense that it was their time to nurse and were literally jumping for joy as Dad approached them to release and guide them over to their mother for nursing. With ravenous sounds of strepitous sucking, those eager bovine babes were a voracious vacuum as they head-butted their mother’s udder bag in hopes of getting that last drop of nutritious milk.
Under my dad’s wise leadership, he knew when the time was right to begin weaning the calves away from suckling their mother’s milk and, instead, drink from a pail of milk or water. Our farmer father helped me learn the “trick” of letting the calf first suck on my fingers and then, with him still sucking my fingers, lower his head into a pail of milk that I was holding. It was oftentimes a comedy of errors to partake of this learning experience. The cute calves loved to suck my fingers (and clothing, etc.), but when I’d lower their snout into the bucket of milk, they’d sometimes suck milk up their nose and sneeze it out in explosive white charges of liquid that shot all over me and the calf’s head. It was hilarious!!! Here was this young animal so thirsty for milk, but making a mess of himself and me in his vain attempts at learning this new order of life for him.
With feeding time behind us, it was now time for me to get down on the same level as our baby bovines in the straw piles. That thick, golden mantle of oat straw, that cozied round each calf, had a warming effect just like the thick quilt, that our mother made for us, that awaited us in our bedrooms. I can still see some of the calves still intent on sucking the ears of their little buddies beside them, but, for me, this particular little bovine beauty laid his head on my leg and began to drift off to sleep as I stroked his soft head and neck. The menacing winds of Old Man Winter scoured the outer walls of our barn that night, but within this bulwark of warmth rested two……….a tiny Holstein calf, with his tummy full of milk, and this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.